Billionaires backing Labour 'can afford tax rises': Rishi Sunak lashes out at ex-Tory donor John Caudwell and Brexit-backing Man Utd co-owner Jim Ratcliffe after they declare support for Starmer in latest body blow for PM

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  • John Caudwell, founder of Phones4U, was one of the biggest Tory donors in 2019
  • The 71-year-old is now backing Labour and has urged others to do the same  

Rishi Sunak today lashed out at two billionaires who have come out for Labour swiping that they ‘can afford tax rises’.

The PM swiped at former Tory donor John Caudwell and Brexit-backing Manchester United co-owner Jim Ratcliffe, noting they were ‘two of Britain’s richest men’.

During an LBC phone-in, Mr Sunak was confronted with the decision by the pair to publicly support his rival Keir Starmer.

Shrugging the blow off, the premier said: ‘They’re two of Britain’s richest men. They can probably afford Labour’s tax rises.’ 

Mr Caudwell, founder of Phones4U, was one of the biggest donors to the Tories ahead of the 2019 general election, when he gave half a million pounds to Boris Johnson’s campaign.

But the 71-year-old said he was ‘amazed by how Keir Starmer has transformed the Labour Party and brought it back from that Corbyn brink’.

Sir Keir said he was ‘delighted’ that Mr Caudwell had ‘thrown his support behind the changed Labour Party’.

Rishi Sunak today lashed out at two billionaires who have come out for Labour, swiping that they 'can afford tax rises'

Rishi Sunak today lashed out at two billionaires who have come out for Labour, swiping that they ‘can afford tax rises’

John Caudwell, founder of Phones4U, was one of the biggest donors to the Tories ahead of the 2019 general election , when he gave half a million pounds to Boris Johnson 's campaign

John Caudwell, founder of Phones4U, was one of the biggest donors to the Tories ahead of the 2019 general election , when he gave half a million pounds to Boris Johnson ‘s campaign

Manchester United co-owner Jim Ratcliffe speaks with Keir Starmer at Old Trafford on May 12

Manchester United co-owner Jim Ratcliffe speaks with Keir Starmer at Old Trafford on May 12

‘John was not just a Conservative voter but a substantial donor to the Conservative Party in 2019 – so it’s not a decision that he will have taken lightly,’ Sir Keir said.

‘But it’s clear that he shares my plan for growth that I set out in the Labour manifesto.

‘I’m campaigning non stop between now and 4 July to win the votes of other people who have backed the Tories in the past but see change with Labour as the best future for Britain.’

Mr Caudwell, who is worth an estimated £1.54billion, said he had supported the Conservatives for 51 years but had been ‘despairing’ about their performance for many years.

As early as 2021 he announced he was considering withdrawing support from the Conservatives as he was deeply disappointed by the ‘mistakes and faux pas’ under Boris Johnson’s leadership. 

He said: ‘Only five years ago, I donated half a million to the Conservatives to help avert the disaster that would have been Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street.

‘But I’ve been increasingly critical of Tory failures since then, particularly over Rishi’s mismanagement of the economy during Covid, Boris’ lowering of ethical standards and, of course, associated with that the accusation that Tory cronies benefited improperly regarding Covid PPE – and then the Liz Truss debacle.

‘Over the last two years especially, I have been amazed by how Keir Starmer has transformed the Labour Party and brought it back from that Corbyn brink.

‘As I have always said, the Government must be much more commercially minded to grow GDP in order to finance the public services that benefit all of society without increasing taxes.’

However, he did add that he held reservations over Labour’s plans to impose VAT on private school fees. 

He said: ‘I don’t think putting VAT on school fees is the right thing to do. We will have more kids going into the state system.

‘If too many kids leave the private school system not only have you got greater cost on the public sector. 

‘It almost seems like a negative action against a meritocracy.’ 

He said he was concerned that it could hit private schools in less wealthy areas, adding ‘I’m not convinced that this is a positive policy.’

Sir Jim also declared his support for Labour last night.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he was 'delighted' that Mr Caudwell had 'thrown his support behind the changed Labour Party'

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he was ‘delighted’ that Mr Caudwell had ‘thrown his support behind the changed Labour Party’

Britain’s fourth-richest man said he liked Sir Keir and believed he will do a ‘very sensible job’ in No10.

Sir Jim previously complained that the Tories had bungled the implementation of Brexit by failing to tackle immigration.  

Former Dragons’ Den star Theo Paphitis, who owns stationery chain Ryman and homeware shop Robert Dyas, said that he, too, was backing Labour.

He accused the Tories – to whom he gave money in 2015 and 2017 – of having ‘consistently ignored’ small enterprises.

Cabinet minister Mel Stride said it was ‘completely wrong’ of Mr Caudwell to have called Mr Sunak an ‘absolute dud’, pointing to official figures on Wednesday showing inflation falling back to the 2 per cent target for the first time in nearly three years.

During the phone-in, Mr Sunak dodged questions about whether he would welcome Mr Farage into the Conservative Party after the election or work with Reform UK.

‘I’m not focused on after the election. I’m focused on winning this election,’ the Prime Minister told the radio show.

He gave the same answer when quizzed on reports that Tory leadership hopefuls are already vying to replace him as party leader after the election.

Amid persistently low poll ratings for the Conservatives, Mr Sunak declined to give his campaign a mark out of 10, saying: ‘I’m not interested in those kinds of things.’

But Cabinet ministers have been stepping up warnings about a Labour landslide.

Mr Stride said the Opposition could win the ‘largest majority virtually in the history of this country’, while Chancellor Jeremy Hunt sounded the alarm over Labour being in power for ‘a very long time’ if they get ‘such a big majority’.

Facing a series of questions about what happens if the Tories are defeated, Mr Sunak insisted he would ‘of course’ still serve for a full parliament as Richmond and Northallerton’s MP.